Bryant, Bruce Gardner, Georgia Reed,
Scotty Reed, Earline Barker
By Melissa Estes
A terrible injustice occurred
in August 1999---a cold-blooded killer was scheduled to be executed, instead he
got a last minute stay of execution from the toughest court in the country---
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Here's why: Because his mother thinks he's
insane and she has recruited powerful political forces to her cause.
Larry Keith Robison brutally
murdered five people 17 years ago. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to
death. He has exercised every possible appeal known to the court system in this
country. Every appeal was denied by every court which heard it. Then his mother
went to work. She launched a massive media campaign aimed at powerful advocacy
groups including Amnesty International, the Catholic Church, the National
Association of Mental Health and nationally syndicated columnists from her home
state of Texas. They all climbed onboard to do "God's work" --- save a
man from execution.
These special interest groups
don't seem too concerned about the real evidence, they just want to adopt a
liberal cause and heroically save a life. Not just any life, but a man scheduled
to be executed. An ordained minister is Robison's chief attorney. Many attorneys
and mental health professionals have donated their services as this coalition
tries to undermine the cornerstone of our legal justice system, trial by jury.
Robison was granted a stay for the court to determine if he is mentally
competent to be executed. He has already been found mentally competent at the
time of the murders, at the time of the trial, at the time of sentencing.
Robison could have asked for this most recent stay as long ago as last May, but
instead he and his powerful legal team decided to drag out the drama until the
last possible time--- the day before his execution. The decision was handed down
just four hours before his scheduled lethal injection. He had already had his
last meal, his last meeting with his mother, and had prepared his last
The question is---is this man
the right poster boy for the forces opposed to the execution of mentally ill
prisoners? There's no question that some prisoners on death Row are mentally
ill, but is this particular prisoner actually insane or did his mother just
manage to convince the right people?
Of course the larger question
is: Should the Catholic Church and Amnesty International be able to interfere
this deeply in the justice system of this country. This smacks of the violation
of Church and State in the Constitution. If the courts decided this man had a
fair trial, every appeal was exercised, all his constitutional rights were
observed---isn't this attempt to overturn the verdict of the jury after a fair
trial actually an act of subversion? If so, it is a threat to the very heart of
our system of government. Are we a democracy based on laws under the
Constitution or can special interest groups lobby the right people, affect the
right election, influence the right governor to impose their beliefs on the
majority? Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Texas legislature in
1974, it has never been challenged. Every poll result has been overwhelmingly in
favor of keeping it. Despite this support, Amnesty International and the
Catholic Church have decided they know what's best for the citizens of Texas,
and will use any means necessary to impose their will against the wishes of the
majority. Amnesty International couldn't base their objections to Robison's
execution on race because this is a white man who killed five white people.
This stay certainly has
nothing to do with the fact that Governor George W. Bush is running for
president, although his opponents suggest that his reputation as a
"compassionate conservative" suffered a blow when Texas executed Karla
Faye Tucker---an axe murderer who was "born again" in prison and also
had a massive media campaign from her support groups. Erroneously, some advocacy
groups are calling for Governor Bush to commute this manís sentence. Actually,
Governor Bush canít commute the sentence unless the Texas Board of Pardons and
Paroles recommends that action. The Parole Board voted 17-0 on Friday, August
13, 1999, against a commuted sentence for Robison.
Tarrant County Prosecutor Greg
Pipes, who prosecuted Robison at trial and will prosecute the competency
hearing, stated in a local newspaper that under Texas law, if Robison's death
penalty sentence is commuted, he would walk out of prison a free man. Texas has
a "mandatory release" statute which, in 1982, applied even to capital
murderers. This means that if a prisoner on Death Row gets a commuted sentence
to life in prison, then he gets credit for time served at the rate of a day and
a half per day. Robison soon will have served the minimum time required for
mandatory release, and if commuted, the man would walk. Naturally the media
hasn't shown much interest in this little piece of information.
Here's the guy who might soon
be living in your neighborhood. Slightly more than 17 years ago, Robison stabbed
his roommate to death to steal his car. Furious when he couldn't find the car
keys, he went next door to steal the neighbor's car. Georgia Reed lived next
door with her 11- year-old son, Scotty Reed. Georgia's mother, Earline Barker,
had recently been released from the hospital and was staying with Georgia to
recuperate. When Robison burst into their home and demanded that Georgia give
him the keys to her car, she refused. So he stabbed her to death. When Earline
emerged from her bedroom to help her daughter, Robison stabbed her to death.
Scotty had attacked Robison with a hammer to try to stop the murder of his
mother and grandmother. Robison took the hammer from Scotty and struck him in
the head, then he stabbed Scotty to death. He stabbed Georgia in the face until
all the skin and muscle tissue had been removed and only the skeletal structure
of her face remained. Robison admitted later that he stabbed Georgia in the face
because he was angry at her for refusing to date him.
My cousin, Bruce Gardner, was
dating Georgia. Two weeks earlier, Robison had asked Bruce to teach him to shoot
the gun he had recently purchased. While Robison was still searching for the car
keys, Bruce arrived to take Georgia and Scotty on a picnic. As he came through
the door, Robison shot my cousin in the head with the gun Bruce had showed him
how to use. Then Robison removed the keys and wallet from my cousin's body,
stole Earline's wallet, showered, and changed clothes. Robison changed the
license plates on my cousin's car, and attempted to escape by driving to St.
Louis. He was captured in Kansas the following day and returned to Fort Worth
When the media announced the
details of the murders, the public was outraged at the viciousness of the crime.
As he was escorted into the courthouse for arraignment, the police and sheriff's
departments called out extra officers and put up barricades in the streets to
protect Robison from the angry mob who shouted death threats at him. The
newspapers described this a "near riot".
Now the man is portrayed as a
national victim. How and why did this transformation occur?
Because Larry Robison's mother
sincerely believes he is insane so that she can live with the horror of his
acts. The issue of his insanity was thoroughly presented to the jury at his
trial. His mother submitted many pages of evidence and testified on his behalf
for three days. Robison, 25 at the time of the murders and a long-term drug
abuser, had used cocaine, methamphetamines, PCP, angel dust, LSD and
amphetamines. The jury heard all the testimony, observed all the witnesses, and
reviewed all the evidence. They didn't believe the defense claims of insanity.
I've spared you the really
gory details--they are too horrible to describe. The man was hyped up on
methamphetamines and lack of sleep for four days. He planned to use the gun
which he had purchased in advance, so this was a pre-meditated act. He was
rational enough to steal the wallets and change the license plates on the stolen
car. He even returned to his home long enough to shower and change clothes. At
one point he remarked that if had been able to find the car keys after the first
murder, he would have gotten away with it. I guess he got frustrated at not
finding the keys. It must have been all that methamphetamine making him testy.
Then his mother tried to
convince the jury that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and that she had tried
for years to get him committed. The evidence was flimsy and the jury didn't buy
that either. They returned a guilty verdict, and a death sentence by lethal
injection. Later, in a taped interview from prison after the trial, Robison
recanted his trial testimony of "hearing voices" and admitted that
this had been fabricated to bolster his insanity defense. Robison was undeterred
by the jury's decision. He had said all along that his mother would get him
released, and it seems he may be right.
Every stage of the trial has
been intensely scrutinized by the courts. There was no prosecutorial misconduct.
The murderer has exercised every possible appeal through the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. All of his constitutional rights
have been observed.
Even though he confessed to
the killings, Robison has never accepted personal responsibility for the
murders. It was always the drugs, or his insanity, or the fact that he was a little testy
from the methamphetamines when he couldn't find the car keys. Since
"drug-induced killing spree" didn't work for Karla Faye Tucker, his
mother has pushed this insanity plea Lois Robison traveled the country enlisting
the aid of advocacy groups,
even appearing on national talk shows to drum up support for her new
organization, Save Our Sons or S.O.S. It seems she used most of the donations to
pay the legal expenses for just one of the sons---her own.
But we can't fault her for
that. After all, she has completely convinced herself that he was insane,
otherwise she has to live with the horror of what he did. I'm a mother, I have a
son---I can't imagine her agony in living with the horror of knowing her son
brutally murdered five people.
His mother's chief argument is
that she didn't get to present all her evidence at trial. Well, the trial judge
wisely decided to exclude one little piece of evidence---a family member
testifying that he thought Robison was mentally ill. If he had allowed that
testimony, I imagine quite a few more of Robison's brothers and sisters and
aunts and uncles and cousins would volunteer to testify about how crazy they
thought he was. On her talk show circuit, Mrs. Robison drags out a stack of
papers she claims establishes her son's insanity. But on close examination, it
seems there is only one possible diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, which was
one alternative along with personality disorder and sociopath. Mighty flimsy
evidence to overturn the decision of a jury which has been upheld all the way to
the Supreme Court.
But she managed to use that
flimsy evidence to convince the National Mental Health Association of her cause.
This guy seemed to fit the bill for a poster boy for mentally ill prisoners they
could help save on Death Row. Since Texas has been dubbed the Death Penalty
Capitol of the World, this seemed like a good place to make a stand.
All the right groups were
interested in this killer---the liberal media had decided to run his story as a
black eye to Governor Bush, the liberal advocacy groups have been lobbying all
their constituents, and it's easy to beat up on Texas for killing people. The
frustration of the victimsí families mounted as the media refused to hear the
facts in this case. They had already decided how they were slanting this story,
based on information fed to them from the murderer and his powerful advocacy
groups, and they didnít want to know the truth. My cousins and I decided to
witness the execution to counter the mediaís portrayal and as a statement of
support for the law. I made this decision reluctantly as I was opposed to the
death penalty. After what I saw transpire in Texas, the contrast between the
screaming protestors from Amnesty International, and the compassion shown by the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice, I've changed my mind about the conflict
between spiritual beliefs and the law. Texas has a Victim Services Division of
their Criminal Justice Department whose assistant director, Dan Guerra, prepares
the families of victims to witness the execution of the person who murdered
their loved one.
Last Tuesday, Dan had his
hands full as the family members of the victims of Larry Robison literally
physically collapsed on hearing the news that this vicious cold blooded killer
had been granted yet another delay in his meeting with his Maker.
Naturally the media didn't
want to hear from the victims' families, they already had plenty of coverage fed
to them by Amnesty International and the other special interest groups. I used
to be a member of Amnesty International, until last Tuesday. I joined to protest
the imprisonment of political prisoners, not to undermine the laws of the United
States. The inaccurate information widely disseminated by Amnesty Intíl is a
travesty of justice and an embarrassment to the organization. How many other
issues have they reported completely inaccurately just to enhance their
This latest stay was granted
because Robison now claims that since he has lived on Death Row for 17 years, as
a result of all the appeals he has filed, he no longer understands the concept
of death. I'm willing to volunteer to explain the concept to him. If I'm still
alive after this latest round of hearings and multiple appeals, I plan to return
to watch Robison executed. This time with no emotional turmoil about the death
penalty. I learned that some people deserve to die for their crimes.
Keith Robison's own words helped seal his fate Monday during a hearing to
determine whether the convicted killer is mentally competent to understand his
death sentence. State District Judge Everett Young found that psychiatric
reports indicate Robison, 42, understands he is to be executed for a rampage in
which 5 people were killed 17 years ago near Fort Worth. And Robison's statement
to the court Monday further convinced him, Young said. Robison, shackled at his wrists and ankles, took the stand
during the brief hearing to apologize to the victims' friends and family
"if the recent media coverage caused (them) any pain and suffering." He
added that he had been "ready to go peacefully" Aug. 17 Ė his
previously scheduled execution date - before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
blocked the lethal injection and agreed
with Robison's attorneys that their claims of the inmate's mental problems
deserved a look. "The
competency hearing wasn't my idea," said Robison, who earlier had been
diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. But "there are people out there who
love me as well and they want me to live."
Lois Robison has led the fight for years to have her son spared and
treated for mental illness. The
U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that mentally ill people could be executed as
long as they understood the punishment that
awaited them and why they were being put to death. Young said Robison's attorneys failed to prove he was
"incapable of understanding he is being executed." The
judge is expected to issue the written ruling declaring Robison's mental
competency Nov. 15. Then the appeals court will consider it, and
if it accepts the judge's ruling, Young will set another execution date. Prosecutors
said the judge could set a date before the end of the year, but the actual
execution would likely occur in 2000.
Melodee Smith, one of Robison's attorney, said she plans an appeal.
The victims' relatives issued a statement saying they are thankful
Robison has accepted responsibility for the murders and "for the years of
suffering these delays have caused us. We,
the families of the victims, hope the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will honor
the decision of the court and respect Larry Keith Robison's request to lift the
stay." Ms. Robison said she does not feel her son received a fair
hearing and insisted he did not want to die.
But in recent psychiatric evaluations,
Robison is quoted as saying that he feels "ready to accept responsibility
for what I did to those people that day."
When asked Aug. 21 if he understood his sentence, Robison told a
psychiatrist, "How could I not? I have been on death row for 16 years.
I've watched others go to their deaths."
In an Oct. 10 interview with the doctor, Robison said he hoped his
execution will "bring the victims' families some relief."